When I was a child I thought that only Americans celebrated Christmas. I didn’t understand Christmas, “the historical, cultural and religious legacy and controversy” because Christmas had not become any of that yet. No one in my suburban safe world thought of it as anything but good; a time of anticipation, when parents “softened” a bit; became sentimental about their children, and acted in peculiarly joyous ways: their behavior had something to do with WWll, the Great Depression and recent “hardship” – years of Christmases spent wishing for a better life. For many it happened that way: America the “the young and good and holy and prosperous” arrived like a great big Christmas gift to the world.
Parents in the 1950s looked upon their children, and the security, happiness and freedom we would inherit, as the culmination of a perfectly human expectation: utopian triumph – perfection at last, in a long dreary history of human failure to live in peace. Peace was a big theme. Americans truly believed that the sacrifices made to free the world of fascism were guaranteed to produce lasting peace, symbolized by “us”, that is, the famous Baby Boomer generation and the spectacular wonders we would create. It was magical thinking; “we” had no idea what our generation was “in for” – the backdrop for our good fortune at being born as America’s darlings was the unimaginable, but real, prospect of nuclear annihilation, made possible by “our” (stolen Nazi) scientists. The Dark Side may have won after all – at an unbearable cost in suffering.
None of this interfered “on the ground” on Christmas morning, as we tore apart the wrappings of useful, but also frivolous and edible gifts. This indeed was a spiritual and secular bonanza.
Of course, as children none of this was explained to us: Peace had been won for all time. The discussion went no further. But annihilation of everything that exists was also present, as if “good and evil” were one and the same. Has anyone figured this out yet, after decades of shallow and desperate frivolity joined at the core with prospects of ultimate evil, just waiting to implode from the overexpansion of human drive and manic energy? This is a very old story, of human yearning for ultimate destruction, that no one can explain. It’s present in cultures everywhere and throughout “historical time”: is this projected and expected annihilation a prescience of “things to come” or a human ultimatum that demands The End to every story? Is this obsession built into our kind, or created by us? Is it a flaw of sentience, intelligence and skill, or a motive to “become better people, someday”? Is it the universe at work, playing out a regular cycle of “making room” for successive manifestations of natural law?
Throw it all in the pot, come what may. Christmas endures, and changes, but “in the old days” of post-war America (what a joke on us!), Christmas was a sensory festival, without the Grinches of modern consumer psychology manipulating the show; without “spoilers” to pervert a simple message of generosity; of time owed to family and friends, and not obedience to sleazy corporations and the duty to buy, buy, buy in order to keep the economy afloat – a soul-destroying task to be ritualized for yet another year.
“The Frantic and Insane Season” is a sorrowful sequel to what (briefly) was a childhood mystery play that allowed for naïve belief in goodness as an elemental component of human behavior; good behavior that was not always visible, but present deep inside our “true selves”. A reservoir of reassurance; a gold mine of hope; a suspension of suspicion in the childhood mind, that the world of adults was not anything like what it was advertised to be.